Correctly done when needed, handwashing may be the single most important behavior that can significantly reduce the transmission of foodborne illnesses. Poor personal hygiene on the part of food workers was a contributing factor in roughly 4 out of 10 (38%) foodborne illness outbreaks between 1993 and 1997. The FDA Food Code requires that foodservice workers wash their hands with soap and water, after which they may apply an alcohol-based sanitizer, but sanitizers alone cannot replace handwashing. In a study that observed foodservice workers in restaurants in several states, employees attempted to wash their hands only one-third of the time required by the Food Code, and of those who washed their hands, fewer than one-third washed their hands properly.[3,4] This equates to only one in six successful handwashings when required. In an FDA study of restaurants and retail stores, employee noncompliance with proper and adequate handwashing regulations ranged from about one in four (27%) for elementary school foodservice employees to about three in four (76%) for employees at full-service restaurants. Improved compliance with personal hygiene requirements among food handlers occurred between 1998 and 2008 in retail food facilities, but handwashing practices were the most out-of-compliance risk factor for every type of facility evaluated. In 2008, handwashing practices were not being followed in 76 percent of restaurants and approximately 50 percent of delicatessens. In another study, compliance with Food Code recommendations for frequency of washing during production, service and cleaning phases in restaurants was only 5 percent.
This is a small part of a larger article about the best practices for making long-term changes in behavior. The full article can be found here.
2. Olsen, S et al. 2000. Surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks—United States, 1993–1997. Morbid Mortal Weekly Rep 49:1–51.
3. Green, L et al. 2005. Foodservice workers’ self-reported food preparation practices: An EHS-Net study. Int J Hyg Environ Health 208:27–35.
4. Green, L et al. 2006. Food worker hand washing practices: An observational study. J Food Prot 69:2417–2423.
6. Strohbehn, C et al. 2008. Hand washing frequencies and procedures used in retail food services. J Food Prot71:1641–1650.